On the flight from Heathrow to St. Petersburg, I remember having a split moment where I thought to myself “what am I doing?”. It was a very scary thought to have at the time. Thankfully, I always manage to convince myself that my ideas are actually good ones, and that going to Russia will benefit me in the end. And I know that to be true, it’s just very scary to go through the process by myself and mentally try to not talk myself out of it. Like I had a choice at that point anymore!
Anyways, my first impression of Russia was far from glamorous. It is a lot easier to live and study in a country where your first language is the main language, the weather is accommodating, and people aren’t carrying a fog of depression around them constantly. The Russian people are extremely interesting to me. They are so gloomy but still walk with a lot of purpose. I mean, Russian history can explain this cultural difference very easily. The Russian people survived really hard times, and are still living through less than meaningful ones, from a Russian perspective. So, as an American, to enter into a place that, while beautiful, is so sad at the same time, is a bit shocking. But then I have to remind myself that I’m here to LEARN – not sit at a cafe all afternoon eating gelato and reading poetry. Sometimes learning things the hard way can be the best way. And if I’ve made it this far, then I think I can keep going.
Our first few days we were shown around the city part of St. Petersburg that is more historical. First stop: the beautiful Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It was built by the Russian imperial family after Tsar Alexander II was killed by political terrorists. Alexander was a generally loved tsar and was actually helping those injured by the first bomb that went off when he was killed by a second bomb. Therefore, the beautiful church was built as a tribute to him and as a place for his people to pray.
Next, we went to St. Issac’s Square, where we saw St. Issac’s Cathedral and the monument to Tsar Nicholas I. The monument is amazing in person – it’s gigantic and shows Nicholas riding his horse, with the horse raising on its two back hooves. Nicholas, a military leader, is dressed in his best war outfit. The sight of it in front of St. Issac’s Cathedral is a beautiful sight. Very legendary. St. Issac’s Cathedral is also very impressive – capped with the same shiny gold as many other Russian landmarks. Fun fact: St. Issac’s is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city, and it shows. It is also the fourth largest cathedral in the entire world! If you can manage, it looks even more impressive and beautiful while lit up at night, with Nicholas I riding his horse in the forefront.
Also on our trip, we went to the Peter and Paul Fortress. I’ve noticed that Russian buildings are very beautiful in design and architecture, usually inspired by the baroque style. However, the buildings are very straight and tall, and usually painted a colorful pastel color, or a bright red, with black and white zig-zag doors. This is very evident in the design of the fortress. While there we walked around and saw a few things. First, we saw a parade by Russian soldiers, where they blasted a canon and performed what looked like a very intricate changing of the guard to a band playing off to the side. The pride of their country was extremely evident and the soldiers were very disciplined. We also saw an interesting monument to Peter I. I say interesting because it shows Peter I seated with skeleton hands, a VERY small head, and disproportionately long legs. It was designed and made by Mihail Chemiakin, who didn’t have the most glowing opinion of Peter. It wasn’t received very well when it was first placed at the fortress, and I’m honestly surprised they even let him. Russian pride is very real, and even though it was made by a Russian man, it a clear attack on Peter I’s legacy. Finally, we went through the Gates of Death to a port that looks out over the Neva River from the fortress. Gloomy, chilly, terrifying name for a gate – but beautiful all the less.
As tiring as it was to walk around in the cold and take in all this history, it was still a great time. I learned a lot about St. Petersburg in such a short time, and the history of the city is incredible. More information to follow, of course. This was only the span of 48 hours! I’ve attached a gallery with pictures from all the places mentioned above. As gloomy as they look, I think they still manage to show the integrity and grit of the city in an elegant way.
“Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” -Winston Churchill.